It wasn't long ago that presidential candidates wooed the votes of "soccer moms" and "waitress moms." With the 2008 election looming and presidential debates already underway, it's fair to ask, "What's on the minds of moms?''
I've interviewed mothers around the country for the past several years: old and new moms, stay-at-home and go-to-work moms, breast-feeding moms and empire-building moms, tired moms and exhilarated moms. They were a diverse lot, not easily pigeonholed as traditional mothers at home or feminist professionals in careers. For example, moms in managerial jobs were usually conservative while many moms at home were unconventional, even radical. Single moms most resembled super-woman, dedicated to both their children and employers, while at-home mothers rescued suffering schools and other institutions (e.g., local government and arts organizations) with relentless volunteer work. Some of the most ambitious mothers had created their own mommy track, working during kids' school hours and time-shifting tasks to do at home during late evening or early morning hours.
The mothers I interviewed remind me of The Cat in the Hat, where the cat is balanced on one foot, juggling several plates in the air (with no time to waste, not a moment to spare). They juggle jobs for pay, unpaid mothering work, housekeeping and the family's health and logistical needs. They do it with surprising grace and largely by themselves. Even many married mothers said they are, symbolically speaking, single moms when it comes to the family's domestic chores. Moms wish dads would dig deeper into the household dirt rather than lean on their shovels.
American mothers think like business owners. They want majority control over their time when their kids are vulnerable: when they are tiny and again when they are teens. They don't want someone with a minority interest -- for example, a fleeting employer -- to control the family by ordering mom into a schedule that is rigid or greedy. Most moms know this takes them off the fast track, the partner track, the tenure track, the anything track, and they don't like it. But many adore their kids more than they adore their careers, and they hope a new option will emerge -- call it the grandma track -- after the children have grown.
Mothers wish they lived closer to their own moms (and dads and grandparents). Many expressed this desire in order to spend more time with their extended families but also so they might have much needed help with childcare after school, when caregivers are ill, when school is closed, or when an emergency arises.
American moms wish their lives were portrayed accurately by the media, with interest and nuance, not a bias toward "mommy wars.'' None of the working mothers I interviewed were critical of moms who stay home to care for children: Everyone wanted more time with their loved ones. None of the at-home moms derided mothers who go to work for pay. They recognized it as an economic necessity and often an emotional one. None expressed much angst about opting out of a big, promising career, because most had no such choice.
Moms care about "butter'' issues, despite the country's recent wars and tilt toward "guns." Health care, quality of schools, flexible work schedules, children's safety -- things that ensure their families will thrive -- are foremost in their minds. Moms make employment, residence, consumption, education, and many other decisions based on their ripple effect through the family.
American mothers might be the waking giant in the '08 election. They are beginning to question why unpaid caring work is not granted higher status in society or awarded social security benefits. They are increasingly vocal and active, thanks to new organizations like MomsRising.org. They are busy, but not too busy, to stay home on Election Day. At the moment, moms may not be the focus of this presidential election, but look at what they are concerned about to see why they should be.
A Peaceful Revolution is a weekly blog about work/life satisfaction done in collaboration with MomsRising.org. Read a blog by a leading thinker in the field every Tuesday.
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